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European Union

Opinion: The EU has more pressing issues

The EU's European Year of Citizens is a superfluous campaign that is not likely to inspire citizens across the union, says DW's Bernd Riegert.

Bernd Riegert
Photo DW/Per Henriksen

"2012 has been another very bad year for Europe in terms of unemployment and the deteriorating social situation and it is unlikely Europe will see much improvement in 2013" - those were the words of the EU Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor this week as he presented the European Commission's 2012 review of employment and social developments.

These are the real problems Europe is grappling with, problems that must be addressed. Bearing that in mind, the campaign the EU Commission is set to launch on Thursday (10.01.2013) has tragicomic aspects, far removed from reality. Europe does not need yet another theoretical debate about its citizens' identity - it needs action and concrete measures to halt its rampant unemployment.

A Europe that promises to provide social security today is surely more popular with citizens than a Europe that harks back to its previous accomplishments such as the single market, freedom of travel and a common currency. The union justifiably received the Nobel Peace Prize for building peace and reconciliation among Europe's peoples - but now the EU must look ahead and ask what people want and expect of it. And overcoming the economic crisis in Europe is currently the most pressing issue.

Give Europe the tools

Even in year five of the crisis, the EU has found neither the right instruments nor the skills it needs to fight the economic slump and unemployment. National governments are still responsible for economic and social policies - not EU headquarters in Brussels, which merely coordinates and supervises. The message the EU Commission intends to convey with its European Year of Citizens is: if Europe is to help, it must be provided with the necessary means. National governments and parliaments should cede responsibilities. Only EU citizens - in other words, voters - can make that happen.

These days, an unemployed Spaniard, a Greek retiree or perhaps a euroskeptic banker in Britain might find it difficult to see how they can benefit from Europe. The European-Year-of-Citizens-hoopla is not going to change that. Citizens in the south and east of the continent only stand a chance of better times once their debt has been cut and the European economy is up and running again. National politicians will naturally claim responsibility for success - failure will be pinned on Brussels. Over the past 40 years, these political mechanisms have barely changed and they are not likely to change much in the future either.

Europe is no superstate: it does not have a united people or a single language. Romantic notions about a United States of Europe lead in the wrong direction. Europe shares some common values and common interests - no more and no less. The European Year of Citizens is superfluous. A European Year to Curb Unemployment would be more timely - so that 2013 does not turn out to be as bad as 2012.

DW.DE